My “New & Improved” Plan for Battling UFOs and Scraps

Last year I came up with a plan that would allow me to work through more UFOs, whittle down the overflowing scrap baskets in my craft room, and allow me to work, guilt-free, on some new projects.  In the past, I always start the new year with grandiose plans to blast through all of my UFOs, and the white-knuckle willpower would only last about six weeks because the textile world is constantly releasing new fabric, yarn, and pattern collections.  So, I came up with this project rotation:

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The Original Project Schedule

And it worked really well for about six months until I discovered a glitch with my system–I never chose fabric from my stash when it came around to make a “new” project, choosing instead to use new fabric from a new collection that excited me.  The stash was starting to grow faster than normal, and I had this weird reluctance to cut into any of it because it was dear to me.  You don’t buy fabric or yarn with no plan unless you’re really in love, which makes it hard to use said fabric or yarn.  But, as a wise homeschooling parent told me about art lessons with my kids, “Art supplies is meant to be consumed, not conserved.”  The same is true of fabric and yarn.  USE THEM.

Plus, I’ve been noticing a lot of my contemporaries breaking into the pattern market, and they are killin’ it, which made me start wondering if perhaps I should start at least trying to write my own patterns for my use?  I know how patterns work by this point in my creative “career,” and the challenge involved excited me as well.

And then we did some charity blocks in quilt guild and it just made me feel good to make those.

So my project rotation schedule needed a few tweaks:

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And it’s been working WONDERFULLY.  I love the challenge of coming up with my own patterns, and I really love the idea of #everytenthproject being a service project–it’s like paying tithing on my creative abilities, for which I am so grateful to possess.

I kept a spreadsheet detailing my projects for last year, and it really helped me with my stash management and with branching out of my comfort zone:

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(It also alerted me to the fact that I tend to only knit with new yarn, which led to the decision to stop stashing yarn completely…because once it goes into the stash, chances are high that I’ll not be interested in using it EVER after that.  Interesting.)

It worked extremely well until I started sewing again for Fat Quarter Shop–by the very nature of those projects, they are always “new” fabric projects, which very quickly started eating up the next available “new” slots in my plan.  I’ll have to watch out for that this year, and possibly come up with a plan to accommodate those projects–the turnaround time on them is tight, so it’s not possible to actually have a “plan” to include those projects into my schedule.  I might leave them out of the “rotation” altogether, actually, and just enjoy the ride when I’m asked to ride along…because, duh.

Oh, another important note: Babies and weddings don’t have to follow the schedule because they are also impossible to plan around.  I just plug them into the spreadsheet where they belong and then work around them as necessary because I LOVE BABIES AND WEDDINGS.  I’m a gift-crafter at my core.

What I find, though, is that this schedule greatly reduces the chances of acquiring more UFOs.  I’m horrendously distracted by the new-and-shiny, but when I’d start thinking about cutting for or casting on a new project, I’d consult my spreadsheet and see if it could fit into the next category up for grabs.  If it didn’t, I’d tentatively schedule it; but more often than not, when I came up to its turn in the rotation, my excitement for the new pattern would have waned and I could move on to something that had been on my bucket list and would truly bring me pleasure.  I started 2017 with thirty-eight UFOs, finished (or donated or frogged) nine UFOs, and am taking in two new UFOs–that means I now have thirty-one UFOs, which is totally an improvement!  I have never ended a year with less UFOs than I had at the beginning of it.  Feels good.

And now it’s onwards to a productive 2018!  Happy New Year, and may you find a little time each day to move forward on your projects.

clementine-qal-e1504126058289And if you’re looking for an idea for a service project, maybe you want to consider joining Fat Quarter Shop’s Clementine Quilt Along?  I’ve committed to it, and it would be lots of fun to have some more friends quilting along, too!

You can find more information about the Quilt Along by clicking here to visit the Fat Quarter Shop Blog.  Proceeds from this quilt along will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

 

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Life’s Simple Pleasures

I was driving the Brookelets home from school the other day and noticed that a tree on the side of the street had a lot of its leaves twirling towards the ground, which prompted me to exclaim, “Oh!  Falling leaves!  One of life’s simple pleasures.”

Miss Junebug scrunched her nose at me and asked, “What does that mean, ‘life’s simple pleasures’?”  I explained that a simple pleasure was a rather ordinary occurrence that just made your heart happy, and generally didn’t cost any money, which made it all the more special because it reminds you that you don’t need to spend money to be happy.  My girl nodded and went back to reading her book.

What I thought was a quick little explanation of some random phrase has apparently been percolating in her mind because we were driving to the library today, and saw a maple tree whose leaves had all turned a brilliant scarlet, but hadn’t fallen off the tree.  Junebug saw it and said, “It’s too bad those leaves aren’t falling off the tree because then they could be a simple pleasure for Mom.”  I explained that, even though the leaves were still on the tree, it was still a simple pleasure for me because I liked how it looked.

She looked at me through narrowed eyes, “Does that mean that simple pleasures can happen even if you spend money on them?”

“What? How did you make that leap?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “you spend a lot of time just looking at your quilts and the things you knit, and it makes you really happy.  But you spent money on them, so I thought it was a complicated pleasure.”

I laughed, “A complicated pleasure?  No, spending money doesn’t take away the simple pleasure of admiring a job well done.  I’m proud of myself for finishing a big project, and I’m pleased with the good job that I’ve done on that project, so it makes me happy to look at it a lot and just be pleased.  It’s fun to make stuff.”

“Really?” she said, “Because it doesn’t seem like you have a lot of fun when you’re making stuff.  You yell a lot, and you breathe angrily when you run out of thread.  And sometimes you burn yourself on the iron or cut yourself with the circle blade…”

I studied her face for a moment, then turned away to stare at the traffic on the road while I thought about her statement.  Then I nodded, glanced over at her and said, “You’re right…it’s complicated.”

 

Evolution of a Crafter: Gifts

We made it through Halloween.

And like a collective sigh, the online creative world shifted from maple leaf quilt blocks and fabric pumpkins to an overwhelming insistence that “YES, YOU HAVE TIME TO MAKE ALL YOUR CHRISTMAS GIFTS.”  Overnight.  I went to bed on October 31st proud of myself for getting my kids’ costumes done right, and woke up the next morning to an online frenzy of DIY gifts.

Many years ago I stumbled across the advice to get your handmade Christmas gifts done before Thanksgiving so you didn’t spend December in a state of anxiety over whether or not you’d finish your gifts.  For the most part, I adhere to this wisdom because it’s the only way that Christmas baking is happening–I dearly love Christmas baking, and I don’t have time for it if I’m struggling to also finish knitting and quilting projects.

So I tried something different this year.  On January 1, 2016 I drew up a list of the people I generally give gifts to at Christmas and concocted an rotation of various categories that I like to make, assigned them to a ten year schedule, and then plugged my gift list people into the categories based upon what age they were turning this year.

Example:  If your age on your birthday in 2016 had you turning something ending with a 5 (ie. 5, 15, 25, 35, etc.), then you were assigned a hat because I assigned hats to 5.

Other categories included: Pillow (1), Socks (2), EPP (3), Apron (4), Scarf (6), Mittens (7), Choice (8), Bag (9), and Quilt (0).

After spending my New Year’s Day happily ensconced in pattern searching and stash diving, I woke up on January 2nd with  optimism and excitement.  I decided to start with the big items first and work my way down to the smaller things, and first on my list was a quilt to make for a special girl who celebrated her tenth birthday in 2016.  (Understandably, I can’t show you a picture of it until after Christmas…)

And it was glorious for a few weeks–oh, the pace was exhilarating, and I patted myself on the back for my excellent plan.

But then, in March, I had to start a project that just wasn’t interesting to me, mostly because of the colors.  I lagged behind my schedule as I grit my teeth each morning and forced myself into my studio to continue plodding along towards the completion of that project.  The next gift on the list was once again in a color palette that failed to excite.  My life started to look like one long, endless road of projects I didn’t really want to make.

And on top of all that, so many people had babies this year.  To date, I’ve completed six baby quilts, with another 1-3 possibly in the works.

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People, I am gifted out.  I have spent this entire year making gifts for people. THE ENTIRE YEAR.

I don’t regret it at all, but I’m also just. done.

I think I’m evolving.

Have you noticed that so many people, when learning a new skill, give away their projects?  It’s like they make that first project to figure out how to work the new skill, and then start cranking out projects and just give them all away?  I’ve touched on this idea before in a previous post, but it seems that we go through a phase of “Look at what I can do!” with any newfound skill, gifting any living being with the works of our hands.  I think it’s part excitement and pride in a job well done, and the other part love.  All good things.

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Some of the swap blocks I’ve made this year. I’ve actually been able to do a lot growing with The Beehive Swap!  New techniques and skills galore!

But there comes a point when you look around and know that you’ve spent most of your time creating beautiful works of art, and realize that your personal life is quite devoid of any of that particular beauty because you’ve given it all away.  There is beauty in service and giving, definitely; but…that moment when you realize that your dwelling is practically ascetic causes a big pause and an even larger moment of reflection.

Giving gifts is good.  Improving one’s skills while working on said gifts is also good.  There has been a lot of good this year.  (Please no one who received a gift from me this year think that I’m upset or regret making something for you.  That is totally NOT the case AT ALL.  I’m quite proud of all the nice things I made for you all this year.)

But…

…it’s falling short.  There are new techniques to try, new skills to learn, and they don’t fit into gifting categories, so I’ve been slow to start working on them, despite my heart being pulled in that direction.

So, I think it’s time for a Gifting Decommission.

Less time spinning my wheels creating more of the same, and a new focus on learning new techniques and stretching my abilities.  I can’t do that with the pressure of gift lists on my shoulders; with the thoughts of “Now who would like this?  Maybe I should change that color to match their decor a little better.  Hmm, I know that so-and-so really loved that appliqued one, so maybe I’ll put this pattern aside and do something with more applique because then I can give it to her for Christmas…” in the back of my mind.  A shift to making art for the sake of art.  “What is best for this project?” instead of “What is best for this person?”

My creativity needs to be mine, and I also need the time to tackle new techniques that will allow me to progress.

I’ve a few gift projects that are near completion that I’ll see through to the end, but after they’re done, that’s it for a while.

It’s time to build a cocoon and do a little bit of growing.

This is what I will tell myself in two weeks when I snap and think that, yes, I SHOULD MAKE ALL THE GIFTS.

I am not an elf in Santa’s workshop.  It is not my job to make gifts, nor does my livelihood depend upon my ability to supply others with gifts.

Now to get going on that cocoon…

Randomly in November

  1. I saw the sign-ups for the Bee Hive Swap in time this year, and got in!  :::happy dance:::  So excited!
  2. My own swap group that I’m running liked it so much that a bunch want to do it again next year!  So, busy with setting that up at the moment.
  3. Yeah, two year-long swaps…talk to me at the end of next year.  🙂
  4. I wrote up an exhaustive inventory of the many works-in-progress taking up space in my craft room, and then hammered out a plan to plough through almost all of them in the next year.
  5. The first WIP that will reach completion as a result of my awesome new plan is probably a pair of socks that I started back in Australia.

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  6. A newly-finished pair of socks right now is kind of perfect, given that the snow has started.  I was actually thinking the socks would be a Christmas present for someone dear to me, but my feet are freakin’ freezing, so I’m going to keep them.  Mwa ha ha.
  7. The second WIP that will probably get finished is a baby boy quilt I started almost eight years ago.

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    The kid in this photo is Penguin, who is now nine years old.  She’s drinking from the mug I received after giving birth to Junebug, who is now seven-and-a-half years old…

  8. It’s funny how you can start a project with so much excitement, but with each passing year of not completing said project how much that excitement turns into resentment and shame.  So much so that I definitely don’t want to keep the quilt when I’m done, but fear the repercussions of giving a new life an item infused with so many negative feelings from myself.  The act of giving wipes off all the bad juju, right?  Right?

  9. I’ve also fleshed out a “Baby Gift Flowchart” to help me decide what to make for tiny humans on my radar.  In this age of social media, I find that I’m inundated with the awareness of many a pregnancy, and the baby-lovin’ crafter part of me really wants to make something for every one of them.  However, given the physical limitations of time, I can’t.  So I came up with a way to shrink the pool a bit and ease my conscience.  A line had to be drawn somewhere, or I’d never be done with making baby gifts.

    Baby Gift Flowchart

  10. I’m currently aware of nine pregnancies, and of three women trying to get pregnant.  That’s twelve impending births in the next year.  My flowchart narrows the gifts down to five recipients, which is still a lot, but gives me back a bunch of time.  I am raising four children of my own…
  11. My son broke the teeth off of the zipper of his winter parka the first day he wore it.  Of course.  Even better, he broke off enough teeth that the actual zipper pull fell off, too.  So, instead of working on WIPs, my time is needed to repair a zipper in a parka.
  12. Once again, making plans is a dumb idea.

What Do You Think of When You Hear “Patriotic, American, Fourth of July?”

I’ve been spending more time with the Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt, and I’m running out of white prints for the stars.  More fabric cutting was obviously in order, and I am getting rather tired of the white prints I have been using this past year, so I called Miss Junebug down to the craft room to pick out some new, interesting fabrics for her quilt.

You think I’d learn to stop asking for her input…

The "Patriotic Snowman" star unit for the Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt

 

…although, truth be told, I am rather pleased that she stuck to the color theme this time.

Her reasoning for picking the snowman fabric, delivered with one hand on her hip and the other hand waving in the air as she explained:  “It’s my quilt, and I like snowmen.  Besides, you’re Canadian, so that means I like snow a lot more because I’m your daughter.”

[Insert image of me making my “I’m trying to look serious while dying inside from laughter” parenting face]

This quilt is ridiculously unique.  Just another reason to keep on with the handmades.

Junebug Brooke hugging her Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt-in-progress

She likes it.

 

The Yarn is My Proxy

I’m trying to be a good little auntie.

I have a weird sibling situation that I finally came to a conclusion upon last year about how I’m going to treat all my present, former, and kind-of siblings:  I’m just gonna love them all.  More love always wins, right?

One of my sisters had a baby last week, and there’s nothing like the actual birth of a baby to really light the fire under one’s rear end to finish the crafties intended for said baby.  She had a little boy, and he is beautiful.

I’ve been working on this layette since October.  The plan was to finish it all before Christmas and then ship it so it’d be there before the birth, but…yeah.  Whatever, it’s finished, and it’s heading to the post office in the next couple of days to make its way to the chilly, chilly Canadian town that boasts one more beautiful baby boy as of last week.

The cardigan is the Little Coffee Bean Cardigan pattern, knit up in Plymouth Yarn’s Jeannee Worsted (51% Cotton, 49% Acrylic).  The buttons are from JoAnn Fabric.  I knit up a matching hat following the Basic Hat Pattern in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns, by Ann Budd.

The blanket is crocheted, as is every blanket I’ve ever made from yarn.  (The idea of knitting a blanket makes me twitch a wee bit.)  The pattern is “Pastel Waves,” from Leisure Arts Our Best Baby Afghans, which I’ve owned for years upon years.  I used good ol’ Red Heart Super Saver for it, despite its baby-melting acrylic content.  I just haven’t reached the point where I can buy that much cotton yarn at once.  That also makes me a bit twitchy.

So I’ll send this off, with much love and many wishes that I could live closer to this new soul.  It’s somewhat heart-breaking to watch all these nieces and nephews grow up, and know that I’m only seeing it in photographs instead of experiencing it in person.  Sigh.  But, perhaps, they’ll be reminded that I care when they snuggle up in a blanket or sweater I’ve made for them.

That’s the hope–that they’ll feel my love and know that I wish I was right there with them.

Happy BIRTHday, Little Baby J.


This post is participating in Small Thing’s “Yarn Along,”
“Anything Goes Monday” at Stitch by Stitch,
and “Sew Cute Tuesday” at Blossom Heart Quilts.

Getting the Knitting Cogs Moving Again

It’s been a weird spring and summer for me, in that I’ve had no desire to knit.  None.  I forced myself to finish some projects because I had all that time lying flat on my back while recovering from those lovely herniated discs, but there wasn’t a time where I was excited about knitting.  I preferred to just lay on the couch and watch Netflix movies.  I didn’t even read a lot.  I’m proud of myself for keeping it relatively together, attitude-wise, during all that yucky back stuff, but I was kind of bummed out during those months.

New socks!

But then, in August, we had a couple of cool weather days.  Very cool weather, the kind of weather that makes your toes start to feel a little frosty.  So I went in search of my alpaca socks, and reveled in the loveliness that is a pair of handknit socks snuggling around very cold toes.  That wonderful feeling, in turn, started moving the knitting cogs in my brain–at first it was a rusty creak (“It would be nice to own more than one pair of handknit socks.”), and then a disjointed series of interruptions to my regularly-scheduled thought processes (“Sweaters appear to be in style this year,” “I’ve never made myself a sweater,” “Monkeyboy has grown out of his old sweater,” “I haven’t been to the yarn store in ages,”), all the while speeding up until I’ve rediscovered my former life as an obsessive knitter who feels greatly conflicted over whether or not to take the knitting with me to the U-Pick Berry Patch.  (Yes, it’s true; and I am a little embarassed that I did have to devote a little bit of logic-making to that decision.)

But even with my brain humming along its (now) well-lubricated knitterly paths of pondering, my hands and heart were having a hard time getting with the program.  I’d sit down to knit and find myself desperately wanting to get away from my yarn after a few minutes.  Knitting wasn’t fun anymore.  Knitting didn’t make me happy.

And, finally, I figured out what it was:  Knitting reminds me, so strongly, of my neighbor who passed away this past winter.

I was forcing myself to put in some work on a vest I’m making for Monkeyboy, and as I was knitting, my eyes glanced across our front yard and into the window that I used to monitor my neighbor through during her last few months here.  My thoughts wandered to the crocheting bag I gave her for Christmas two years ago, and I surprised myself with having to choke back a sob at the thought of how she no longer has a need for a crochet bag, and wondering what had happened to it.  Then I thought of knit group, which featured little wise cracks she’d make; and then I saw one of her crocheted afghans laying along the back of one of my couches, which made me think of the bits of granny square advice she’d imparted to me over the years.  And it hurt; hurt so badly that I had to lay my knitting down in my lap and just breathe until I could think about those things without wanting to cry.

It continues to amaze me at how much I miss my neighbor.  You have all these “regular” people in your life that don’t appear special on the surface.  They’re not your grandmother, your best friend, your roommate from freshman year, or that teacher who woke you up with their words of advice.  There’s no “moment” that can be pinpointed as to their significance in your life–they were just there, silently building up memories and bonding slightly closer to you with each seemingly-insignificant interaction that you shared over the years.  It’s a love that is rarely recognized in the flesh, and mostly only realized once circumstances change to the point of no longer having it around in its normal form.  It makes me both sad and angry that I didn’t realize that I loved my neighbor like I did until she was dead.

And my neighbor is linked to the knitting part of my life, which makes the knitting part of my life hurt right now as well.

I won’t quit knitting.  (That would be so many levels of stupid.)  But I now understand why it’s been difficult, and that it wasn’t just my injury that made me disinterested in what I consider to be my most favorite hobby, over this past year.  It’s some weird expression of grief, and now that I recognize it for what it is, it does make a lot of sense to me.

However, the past couple of days have found me, for the first time this year, looking forward to knitting.  Autumn is on my mind, which raises mental images of cabled sweaters, tweedy wools, and marled mittens against a backdrop of fallen leaves.  Boots beg for warm socks as lining.  There are whisperings of Christmas knitting.  The changing of the seasons is diverting my thoughts to the good times that await throughout the next few months.

Those knitting thoughts are happy knitting thoughts, and they are peeking through the sad knitting clouds of mourning that I’ve been unconsciously carrying behind me.  So I’ve decided to take those thoughts of my neighbor and frame them in a positive light, rather than allowing my brain to close itself around the dismal interpretation of those thoughts.  I remember my neighbor’s smile when she unwrapped her crocheting bag, and I don’t allow myself to think on the question of what happened to the crochet bag.  The crochet bag made her happy, and I gave it to her.  That is a wonderful thing.  I am thankful for the crochet advice she gave me, and I’m glad that I have it to bless the lives of those I crochet for.  That’s another good thing.  And I will always look fondly upon “Bright White” skeins of Red Heart Super Saver yarn because it was her favorite color to edge her granny squares with, and there are a lot of people in this world who possess the Bright White works of her hands.  She was good.  And I got to have that in my life.  It’s just good, all around.

Autumn is approaching, and Knitting Season is beckoning me to move forward…and my heart and my hands are willing to get on board.

Life goes on.

Grief isn’t permanent.

Knitting waits for you.

My New Response to Knitting Requests

It’s a weird phenomenon–word gets out that you know how to knit (or crochet, or sew, or quilt, or whatever…) and people start asking you to make stuff for them. It’s not rude or anything, they’re genuinely interested in your talents and are willing to buy the materials and sometimes add on a little extra money to make it worth your while. I’m not complaining, it’s fun to be “in demand.”

But I’ve got a lot of people who demand much from me.

And I’m a gifter. I really, really enjoy making stuff for other people.

But I have to say no. There’s just not enough time to produce all the items requested, paid for or not.

So my new response is: “If you buy the yarn and come over to my house, I’ll teach you how to make it yourself.”

Give a pal a handknit gift and you warm them for a couple of years. Teach them to knit and you warm them for a lifetime.

Creativity…the lack thereof…the need for completion

I’ve lots of theories behind the need to be creative on a regular basis. One theory of mine is that God is a creator, we’re here to become more like Him…therefore, the need to create and be creative. Another theory is that we (women especially) spend our days doing a lot of repetitive tasks–picking up toys, doing laundry, washing the dishes–that will need to be repeated every day and never are really “done” because you’re just going to do them again tomorrow. But having projects that have finite ending points…that’s where you get some peace in your heart at having finished something.

Whatever the reason is, I have a tremendous desire to create. It really starts to wear on me if I don’t get some creative time every few days…like right now. I finished the knitting on the Backyard Leaves scarf the day before Little Lamb was born and now it simply awaits some steam blocking and sewing of the two halves together. (Funny aside: I finished the knitting and thought to myself, “There. Now I can have this baby.” And that night my water broke!) Since I didn’t want to lug out the ironing board in my humungous pregnant state to block Mr. Leafy, I started another scarf with some yarn I had in my stash that evening…I even worked a row of it while I was at the hospital. And I worked on it for fifteen minutes when Little Lamb was two days old. Those were my last moments spent on a creative pursuit…more than two weeks ago. I’m getting fidgety.

I’m getting this antsy feeling to unearth my sewing machine from beneath all the whatever is hiding it from view down in the craft room and start sewing like a crazy person. I’ve seen some of the cutest patterns for tote bags, hats, quilts and little girl dresses lately…oh my goodness, would I like to spend an afternoon sewing without interruption! I know that I’ve got three quilts in progress that I’d really just like to scratch off the mental list of unfinished projects…

And the knitting–I’ve got yarn and patterns for three baby cardigans that I would really like to see my girls wear before they get too big, the argyle scarf (the book is in my possession!), a reversible cabled scarf for the Backyard Leaves recipient’s significant other, the scarf I started right before Little Lamb was born (perhaps I will call it the “Little Lamb Scarf”?), and a desire to make mittens. (Mittens in March? I blame it on Elizabeth Zimmerman and her “Mittens for Next Winter” chapter for the month of May in Knitter’s Almanac…and I blame it on Piecework Magazine’s emphasis on mittens in its latest issue.)

Perhaps it’s not a desire to create, but a desire to feel like something is finished; and I’ve just demonstrated the mountain of unfinishedness that’s lurking in the basement…bad Feng Shui indeed. Hmmm. Maybe I just need to grab the projects that are closest to completion and just finish the silly things. (Dare I even say that I cannot start another project until I finish a set number of In-Progress works?)

That’s it. We’re doing some creativity housecleaning. I’m not sure of what just yet. Off the top of my head, things that aren’t finished:

1. Backyard Leaves Scarf
2. Cheerful Baby Quilt
3. Blue & Yellow Quilt
4. The Ugly Baby Girl Quilt (I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish this)
5. The Little Lamb Scarf
6. Monogrammed Throw Pillow (oh, the calamity that it has turned into…it pains me to look at it and try to figure out how to make it all better again)
7. Patriotic Braided Rug (no motivation as I do not have a patriotic room to put it in until the basement gets finished)

Except for the last two items, I really could get all those done with relative ease. The quilts are pretty near completion, although I’m not exactly sure how far along the Ugly Baby Girl Quilt is. Perhaps I’ll shoot for finishing up the two scarves and the two non-ugly quilts.

But that brings me back to the original dilemma of finding time to do it all…

*sigh*